Phil Gai­mon

The for­mer pro turned au­thor, vlog­ger, KOM hunter and out­spo­ken critic of dopers tells Cy­clist about find­ing fame af­ter re­tire­ment thanks to so­cial me­dia

Cyclist - - Lead Out | Interview - Words PETER STU­ART Pho­tog­ra­phy JOR­DAN CLARKE HAG­GARD

Cy­clist: Your new book, Draft An­i­mals, is all about the life of a pro cy­clist. Was be­ing a World­tour do­mes­tique pun­ish­ing or fun?

Phil Gai­mon: Both. The thing is, it’s fun be­cause you don’t have any real pres­sure. Be­ing a do­mes­tique is so damn easy when your fin­ish line is 10k to go. I re­mem­ber bring­ing bot­tles to [Can­non­dale-dra­pac team­mate] An­drew Talan­sky and he’s got to go and keep rac­ing while I’m al­ready dead, and I’d be like, ‘Have fun with that, buddy.’

But the down­side of be­ing a do­mes­tique is that be­cause you’re a low pri­or­ity rider, your job is to stay 90% all year, so you don’t get to taper off. Some­times you’ll have a four-day stage race and two days off, and then a five-day stage race straight away. You can al­ways just be 90% but you don’t get to buy a plane ticket to visit your mom be­cause you don’t know where the f*** you’re gonna be next year or next week. Cyc: You re­cently ran into trou­ble with Fabian Can­cel­lara for a throw­away com­ment in your book, do you feel be­ing open back­fired?

PG: All I’m do­ing in that whole part of the book is say­ing, ‘I came into the sport and here’s what was go­ing on right be­fore. Ev­ery­body was on drugs and I heard this one guy was on a mo­tor. It’s crazy!’

But you don’t know how bad the me­dia can be un­til they write about you. I’m glad Fabian and I have found a way to make some­thing good out of it now. I will be rac­ing Fabian for char­ity and an­nounc­ing that soon.

Cyc: You have a more ac­tive so­cial me­dia pres­ence than most pro riders. Do you think the risk of neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity like that is the rea­son other pros are more guarded?

PG: In my ex­pe­ri­ence as a pro there was lit­tle up­side in hav­ing a so­cial me­dia pres­ence, be­cause there was po­ten­tial to get in trou­ble even if you’re wear­ing the wrong sun­glasses. At no point did I get a bonus for us­ing so­cial me­dia and get­ting ex­po­sure for the team.

I think it bit me in the ass too, be­cause I was too loud and I think I be­came too out­spo­ken. Mostly riders are just sup­posed to do their job and let the team tell the story.

The prob­lem is that the model of pro sports is that you ex­ist for your spon­sors. You put your team out there, then you tell your story and you cre­ate spon­sor im­pres­sions. But in cy­cling the spon­sor is of­ten a bil­lion­aire some­where who just wants to be in the car at Roubaix and it’s not re­ally about ex­po­sure for the spon­sors. The whole an­gle is skewed and the in­cen­tives aren’t quite there.

Even on Can­non­dale, half of the pay­checks were writ­ten by JV’S [Jonathan Vaugh­ters] rich friends.

Cyc: Do­ing your own me­dia projects seems to have raised your pro­file more than your per­for­mances while in the pro pelo­ton. Is this some­thing other pros should learn from?

PG: Well, the teams have mid­dle­men who are in charge of me­dia and ex­po­sure and I think it does a gi­ant dis­ser­vice to the whole sport. The sport is al­ready com­pli­cated and then they add this layer. Me be­ing on Youtube should not have raised my plat­form

P as an athlete, but pro cy­cling has a cred­i­bil­ity and an ac­cess prob­lem.

Now it’s a lot eas­ier for me to ap­proach spon­sors and of­fer my story to the pub­lic. I can choose my own spon­sors so it’s def­i­nitely more hon­est and I think that’s made it eas­ier for my au­di­ence to re­late to me. And be­cause of that, spon­sors now find me more valu­able. Which is lu­di­crous. That’s just a fail­ure of the pro side of the sport to tell a story and make it avail­able.

Cyc: Were you sur­prised that your old team Can­non­dale-dra­pac so nearly be­came bank­rupt re­cently?

PG: No I wasn’t sur­prised at that! But I think that Vaugh­ters was per­haps the first director to re­alise dop­ing is go­ing to kill this sport and that he bet­ter do some­thing about it. So it was a very smart move to base a team around the con­cept of be­ing clean when no one else was do­ing that.

Pro cy­cling could have turned into pro wrestling by now, and I think Vaugh­ters did a lot to help pre­vent that. But on the team you see a lot of waste and you see a lot of spon­sors that aren’t treated as well as you’d want them to be. It’s just like I said, that the whole model of pro cy­cling is skewed.

‘I don’t think I’ve ever had to stop on a climb be­fore, but with about 7km to go to the sum­mit of Mauna Kea, I had to stop and I just sat on the guardrail in the snow and ate a Clif Bar’

Cyc: Do you plan to carry on creat­ing videos for your Youtube chan­nel, Worst Re­tire­ment Ever?

PG: Well, this all started be­cause I was go­ing for this doper’s Strava KOM in LA [an ex-pro who we can’t name here]. That was what first got me­dia at­ten­tion and made spon­sors hit me, so I car­ried on mak­ing videos of me go­ing for Koms. It’s fun but it’s also su­per-dumb and not that sus­tain­able. So what I’ve al­ways wanted to do, and I tried to sell this show to Hol­ly­wood, is make a travel show all about bikes.

So my idea was to go to a place and do a bike ride with a lo­cal, and ex­pe­ri­ence Van­cou­ver or New York or Park City from a bit of a dif­fer­ent an­gle, rid­ing but also stop­ping for a cof­fee, or what­ever – all the stuff I couldn’t do when I was a pro. I al­most got that go­ing as a show in Hol­ly­wood, but now I’ve de­cided, f*** it, I’ll make it on Youtube.

Cyc: Do you think that more riders will look to so­cial me­dia as a ca­reer op­tion in­stead of slog­ging it out in ob­scu­rity on the pro cy­cling cir­cuit?

PG: It’s al­ready hap­pen­ing, and yes I think there’s go­ing to be more to it.

I think cy­clists creat­ing con­tent on Youtube is like a ver­sion of pro cy­cling. I mean, peo­ple en­joy watch­ing me do­ing 400 watts up a hill and I have spon­sors sup­port­ing it. That’s a ver­sion of pro cy­cling that in a way feels a lot more le­git­i­mate than it did when I was on Team Jelly Belly mak­ing $2,000 a year and sleep­ing in my car.

Cyc: Do you still en­joy rid­ing?

PG: Yes­ter­day was my birth­day and I rode for six hours with a bunch of friends. It’s sur­pris­ing how much I still like it, which is part of why I think I re­tired at the right time even though I didn’t re­ally want to. But it was far be­fore I got sick of it and there’s no other way I want to spend a good day.

Cyc: What’s your favourite climb?

PG: The one that I want to go back to, and the one I think about the most, is Mauna Kea in Hawaii [ar­guably the world’s hard­est climb – see Cy­clist is­sue 64]. I climbed it on New Year’s Eve 2016 with Kevin Sys­trom [the founder of In­sta­gram]. I don’t think I’ve ever had to stop on a climb be­fore, but with about 7km to go to the sum­mit I had to stop and I just sat on the guardrail in the snow and ate a Clif Bar.

It was also an emo­tional day for me as it was of­fi­cially my last day as a pro. So I just emp­tied my­self and when I

P fin­ished I knew that I would never be a pro cy­clist again and would never race again. It was re­ally emo­tional for me.

What I didn’t know was that this is what I would do now – I just f*** around on cool climbs and just empty my­self for no rea­son.

Cyc: Some ex-pros tend to let them­selves go af­ter rac­ing. Why have you re­mained so fit af­ter re­tir­ing?

PG: I don’t know, but part of it is be­cause I guess I was too young to re­tire. So I kind of made Strava Koms my job. I don’t know any­body who could be an athlete at that level, to see your body as a pro­ject and be fit, and then let it go. I hate be­ing out of shape. It doesn’t feel good when I take two weeks off in Oc­to­ber.

I feel like no mat­ter what, I’m gonna be a fit per­son. I think there are peo­ple who re­tire and get fat and I don’t know what’s with those guys, and then there’s a cat­e­gory of guys who re­tire and be­come fit­ter in dif­fer­ent ways.

‘If you’re in a NON-MPCC team – a team that does the tra­madol and does the sleep­ing pills or what­ever (and that’s a lot of f***ing teams still!) – you’re not hir­ing the guy with the “clean” tat­too’

Cyc: You have a ‘clean’ tat­too on your arm. Did your view on dop­ing ever cre­ate fric­tion in the pro pelo­ton?

PG: Well, I think ev­ery­body rolled their eyes. When I got it, I was very far from win­ning any races in the US – I was 25 and I never thought I was go­ing to Europe. I never thought I was go­ing to have to be on a team bus with a doper.

Then three years later that bit me in the ass be­cause I was good enough to go to Europe and now I had to make friends with these guys and and they were like, ‘Who’s this dick­head with the clean tat­too? Now bring me my bot­tles.’

I still feel like the clean thing kept a lot of teams from ever re­spond­ing to my emails. If you think about it, why would they have? Be­cause if you’re in a NON-MPCC team [anti-dop­ing union Mou­ve­ment Pour un Cy­clisme Crédi­ble], a team that does the tra­madol and does the sleep­ing pills or what­ever – and that’s a lot of f***ing teams still – you’re not hir­ing the guy with the ‘clean’ tat­too.

Cyc: Hav­ing be­gun your ca­reer in the shadow of Lance Arm­strong, how do you wel­come his re­turn to the sport as a pod­caster and com­men­ta­tor?

PG: I find it very frus­trat­ing. I think that Lance is the rea­son that I got my pee tested. He’s done a very good job get­ting his story out there, which is ‘level play­ing field’ and ‘ev­ery­body was dop­ing’, and the thing is a lot of that is not wrong. But the re­al­ity is he in­no­vated in the field of dop­ing and he was the great­est at dop­ing. He rolled the dice and he came up the big­gest and then he came down the big­gest. That’s how gam­bling works.

But also when you hear sto­ries and you know peo­ple who had to deal with him – I know Frankie and Betsy An­dreu well – you think that this isn’t a guy who should be around peo­ple.

But I live in the coun­try that elected Don­ald Trump and where OJ Simp­son is com­ing back into favour and it’s not a bat­tle worth fight­ing. Part of why I’m over pro cy­cling is be­cause I don’t want to watch this process where Lance is an­nounc­ing the Tour de France in two years’ time. I just find that gross.

While still rid­ing pro­fes­sion­ally, Gai­mon wrote a book en­ti­tled Pro Cy­cling On $10 A Day, about the harsh re­al­i­ties of life in the pelo­ton. Af­ter re­tir­ing, he penned an­other book about his time as a do­mes­tique, Draft An­i­mals, and set up a pop­u­lar...

Gai­mon be­gan his pro ca­reer in 2009 with Amer­i­can team Jelly Belly. His fi­nal team was World­tour out­fit Can­non­dale-dra­pac, which he joined in 2016, but he an­nounced his re­tire­ment at the end of that sea­son when he failed to se­cure a place on a...

As a pro­lific writer and blog­ger, and an out­spo­ken critic of dop­ing, Gai­mon’s com­ments have landed him in hot wa­ter, but also en­deared him to a wide cy­cling au­di­ence, many of whom would not have known his name when he was ply­ing his trade as a...

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.